Celebrating National Audio Book Month

Barbara Vey -- June 1st, 2010


Because Joysann is an audio book aficionado, I bow to her expertise in celebrating National Audio Book Month.

An Audie Award is prized by Spoken Word artists

My passion is fiction on audio. I had started my library job back in the early ‘90s, and that’s when I learned about them. At that time the big thing for visually-impaired outreach patrons was the state-supplied Talking Book Program, which required a special machine. This was/is a truly essential service, and I‘m not knocking it, but I listened to one of those, and it was awful. Very literally someone simply read (read well, of course, but disinterestedly) into a microphone and recorded whatever, from books to newspapers and magazines, and just droned on and on. But a new medium was becoming more easily available then, and that was books recorded to cassette tapes that could be played on ordinary players in cars or at home. One time I heard one patron explaining to another that these were for “blind people, and should only be checked out for them”. Oh, was she wrong. These were for the pleasure of everyone!

Mind you, audio books had been around for a long while already, but I had just discovered them. I remember first falling in love with audio books when I was gardening in my yard, weeding not being a favorite thing, with a Walkman plugged to my ear, and Stephen King and Blair Brown reading Rose Madder to me. I was enthralled. I don’t know what the heck I did to my yard – it so didn’t matter. From there I went through every Stephen King book I could lay my hands on, whether I’d read it before or not, whether read by him or not. And, in between, I started on everything else. Stephen King reads his stuff very, very well, by the way.

Now, nearly twenty years later, I’ve become totally addicted, and I can’t live happily without an audio book close to hand. And that’s not a bad thing.

I have my particular readers/narrators whom I adore, and often simply having their names on a book cover will make me decide to “read” (listen to) something. George Guidall, Dick Hill, Davina Porter, Simon Prebble, Scott Brick, Kate Reading, Phil Gigante, and so many others, are names that can catch a listener’s eye (ear?). There are many talents one knows from stage and screen, like Derek Jacobi and James Marsters who also record books.

Barbara Rosenblat

My very favorite is marvelous Barbara Rosenblat. When she reads, every character becomes as large and as vivid as if on a movie screen, visually complete in the mind’s eye, with no relevance to sex, age, race, nationality, or locale; all the characters are simply real. Jim Dale, of course, brought audio books to a whole new level with Harry Potter, and daily there are more productions vying for that magical performance.

At first, long ago, I couldn’t have told you who a narrator was, barely able to put title to author consistently, but that’s no longer true. One of the first names I committed to memory came with the reading of The Green Mile when narrator Frank Muller took my breath away. He read many of Stephen King’s books, as well as other fascinating fiction and non-fiction, and the world lost a special talent to a motorcycle accident. Another tragic loss to accident was of Kate Fleming/Anna Fields, who will always be, to me, the voice of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, though she read many wonderful books by other talented authors. It’s bittersweet to play an audio book and hear them again, knowing they’re gone forever.

Stephen King is not the only author to read his own books. Many non-fiction authors do, and more and more frequently fiction authors. Garrison Keillor, of course, and Tom Bodett are fabulous by their very nature, being radio performers. The late Roger Zelazney did one of the most memorable readings I’ve ever heard with A Night in the Lonesome October. Neil Gaiman reads several of his stories, and I’m presently listening to the mystery The Inheritance read (quite well) by author Simon Tolkien, and I’m looking forward to hearing how Barry Eisler does with his new release, Inside Out, later this month.

There’s another thing, though; that other side. An audio book narrator can make or break a story for me, and I’ve had to learn not to dismiss either the reader or the author out hand. If a voice is annoying, or the narrator’s performances are not top rate, a book can be ruined. Conversely, a performer has to have something to work with. I’ve had to learn to find the book in print to see if it’s the story that reads poorly to me, or find another audio book read by that narrator to see if the performer is consistently annoying, whereupon, of course, I will avoid him/her, either one.

Blackstone Audio, Brilliance Audio, Harper Audio, MacMillan Audio, Penguin Audio, and on, and more names I don‘t know or am not recalling, publishing houses are producing audio books, often now released at the same time as the print, and bringing the magic of books even to those who can’t find the time to read. And, of course, audio books are now available in a variety of ways: cds, mp-3, downloads, self-contained pocket-sized gizmos, and who all knows what else.

My husband thinks my headset is permanently attached.

I’m no expert… this is only my opinion and experience. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the audio book world, but if I’ve enticed even one of Barbara’s readers to give an audio book a try, I’ve celebrated National Audio Book Month properly.

Bottom Line: I still have to figure out how to listen on the motorcycle without losing a single word to the wind.

128 thoughts on “Celebrating National Audio Book Month

  1. Katharine Ashe

    Audio books are a godsend. After my mother’s eye surgery a few weeks ago, audio books kept her sane.

    Have you heard Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride? The audio book follows the novel rather than the film, and Reiner is absolutely fabulous.

  2. Sheila Llanas

    I agree that the voice has to work. I have two sets of audio cassettes in my car – Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett, and Educating Esme by Esme Raji Codell, both read by their author . I could listen over and over again. They make my drive times go so fast!

  3. Shari Anton

    I love audio books. I do believe I’m the only person on the planet who has no music on her iPod, only books. Yes, really :) . And for listening on the motorcycle, you need to ditch the earphones in favor of earbuds, and put on a bandana to block out the wind and hold in the earbuds. Absolutely marvelous for long rides :) .

  4. Edie Ramer

    I used to listen to audio books when I drove to work. I can remember listening to one with a monotone reader. The book may have been good, but I couldn’t listen to it. But after reading Katharine’s comment about The Princess Bride, I’m going to look for that on audio.

  5. Cassie

    Shari, I have an iPod devoted solely to audio books too. I got it after I could hold all my books and music on one Nano. So now I have the book iPod and the music iPod, and I think it’s the best system I’ve ever devised, haha.

  6. Tracey

    Audiobooks are wonderful! I “read” so much more than I would have time for, given a crazy schedule. They are also an excellent source of reading for my son, who is dyslexic and struggles with longer books. He thrives on the ones we download onto his mp3 player; he listens while doing his chores and on the bus to & from school.

    Narrators can certainly affect the overall outcome of an audiobook, either way, but if the story is engaging enough, not even a narrator that is not the right fit can take away from the tale being told.

    I do like Cassie’s idea of one mp3 player for books and one for music. I’m constantly juggling tunes and audiobooks.

  7. Traci Cee

    My favorite readers are Frank McCourt, Bill Bryson and narrator Katherine Kellgren – you cannot go wrong with any of them! I always listen while painting rooms in my house – whehter on CD, on my Kindle, or downloaded to iPhone.

  8. David Niall Wilson

    It’s funny how those of us who have spent so many hours listening to audiobooks lean toward the same readers, Jim Dale, Frank Muller, George Guidall and Barbara Rosenblat – reading their own work King and Gaiman. I’ve become so enamored of audiobooks I’ve created my own publishing company to specialize in them…

    It’s very nice to see a special time set aside to celebrate reading with your ears…


  9. Phyllis

    Happy for Neil Gaiman’s Audie for Odd and the Frost Giants. It was in my car CD player when the win was announced. Also try his audio of The Graveyard Book. Not all authors make good readers but he sure does.

  10. Susan Elizabeth Phillips

    Thanks so much for mentioning Anna Fields/Kate Fleming. She was, indeed, the voice of my books. I talked with her frequently on the phone, but only met her in person once, a lovely lunch when she was in Chicago for Book Expo. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the shock of her death. The huge comfort is knowing that her vivid interpretations live on.

  11. Amelia

    I do so love audiobooks. I’m listening to Dies the Fire (S.M. Stirling) read by Todd McLaren as I type. I’ve turned my sister (who is not a reader) on to them. We have been on many a road trip together while listening to audiobooks. It is one of the major parts of planning our trips together–what books are we going to listen to. It has made some great memories.
    And I have to agree with many of the favorite readers/entertainers mentioned here. One of my absolute favorites is Neil Gaiman’s reading of his brilliant Neverwhere. It transports me every time I listen to it.

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  13. Amy Cook

    Joysann and Barbara:

    What a great blog today! I became legally blind for the 3rd time 14 years ago and was given a Books on Tape catalog from the Lib. of Congress as my only alternative to have books in my life again. To give them some credit, not everyone was abysmal, they made life easier to bear after I realized my sight wouldn’t be coming back this time.

    Then came audiobooks, while expensive to purchase, the libraries around town came to my rescue again. I would only listen in my room, didn’t use headphones but still the words came alive.

    Now with Overdrive online at MCFLS, I use my mp3 player and earphones and have a book on all day. In fact I have 3 mp3 players, 2 sansa clips to rotate when I’m recharging the battery and 1 iPod. (I prefer Sansa Clips for books over the ipod…more selection, smaller , clips to my shirt or jacet and more intuitive than Ipod, not to mention less expensive). I use my Ipod for music, my 2 sansa clips for books and life has never been better!

    I think the readers are key to the story…most books with a “choppy” reader will not be finished. I also look for the reader when ordering books, I know who I like and don’t like.

    Anyone else like Scott Brick? I love his Clive Cussler books. He was a little melodramatic for me at first, but now he’s on my favorite list.

    Thanks again for the great article…Happy Listening everyone!

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  19. Whitney

    I totally agree that the voice of the reader can make or break a story!! Some I just can’t get enough of!!
    Audiobooks have for sure made it easier to get more “reading” time into my day, chores have never been more fun!!!

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